PROVIDENCE, R.I. — After losing three games in the past two weeks to Providence, it’s no secret what Maine needs to do Saturday if it wants to keep its hockey season alive.
Passes need to be crisper. The forecheck needs to be more tenacious. Every mistake must be eliminated.
The Friars made the Black Bears pay for early careless play, then never opened the door for a rally Friday in a 3-1 victory. It gives them a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series at Schneider Arena, with a chance to send Maine packing in Game 2 at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“We had some moments in the game where we looked pretty good. But moments in a game against a highly motivated opponent will not spell victory,” Maine Coach Red Gendron said. “You have to play for 60 (minutes). And everybody has to be sharp. You can’t have a couple guys sleeping and expect to win. Because it’s funny, whenever you have a guy sleeping, somehow, some way, the other team finds him.
“They find the sleeper and they take advantage of him.”
No. 19 Maine (16-14-4) fell behind 2-0 in the first seven minutes. Providence’s first goal came after two Black Bears chased Mark Jankowski into the corner, leaving Trevor Mingoia alone in the left circle. Mingoia one-timed Jankowski’s quick pass past goaltender Martin Ouellette for a 1-0 lead.
The No. 9 Friars (20-9-6) extended the lead 1:30 later after Maine blew its defensive assignment off a faceoff in its end. Brandon Tanev’s shot from the slot was redirected into the net by Derek Army, and the Black Bears were back on their heels, much as they were while being swept by Providence in Orono two weekends ago.
Maine gathered itself to play even with Providence for the final 53 minutes, but even then it wasn’t inspired hockey. Quality chances were few as Black Bear passes kept drifting off-target, and they didn’t forecheck aggressively enough to mount sustained attacks.
Providence goaltender Jon Gillies of South Portland made 34 saves, left no rebounds and saw the puck well most of the game.
The most telling sequence might have been a Black Bear power play in the third period during which the only chance belonged to Providence. Tanev stole the puck and broke into Maine’s zone, but his shot hit the pipe. The Black Bears had no shots on goal.
Maine cut the deficit to 2-1 in the second period when Ben Hutton lofted a shot from the blue line that fluttered high into the net, a testament more to its trajectory than its velocity. It was his 14th goal of the season, setting a record for Black Bear defensemen.
But the momentum was turned back by a Providence power-play goal at 14:05 of the second. Jankowski carried the puck behind the net and into the right circle before whirling and firing it into the goal.
“I think it went through my legs and through (Ouellette’s) legs. It kind of squeaked in,” Hutton said. “It was kind of a back-breaker for us.”
It left Maine with its season on the brink and searching for answers, with less than 24 hours to find them.
“They’re very strong defensively, so if we’re going to want to put some pucks in their net, we’re going to have to earn it,” Black Bear center Devin Shore said. “It’s not just going to come. We’re going to have to make our own bounces.”
Ouellette, who made 29 saves, knows his Maine career could end Saturday.
“We got outworked by them all game long,” he said. “We want to come back stronger (Saturday) or it will be the end of our season if we play like tonight.”
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or